A week before the Paris air show, the head of Airbus Defence & Space’s military aircraft division has called on France to participate in the development of a new airborne weapon system proposed by Germany and Spain to succeed the Eurofighter Typhoon.
“I really hope that France will be involved,” says Fernando Alonso, speaking to reporters on 9 June at Airbus media day. “We have to do this in Europe. There’s no place to do two or three different systems.”
The objective of a single European fighter programme first arose 25 years ago, but Germany and France pursued different paths: Germany joined with Italy, Spain and the UK to develop the Typhoon and France commissioned Dassault to produce the Rafale.
With the UK committed to withdrawing from the EU, Alonso’s invitation is currently reserved to governments within the bloc, describing it as “difficult” to have clarity on London’s future dealings with Brussels.
Last year, Germany and Spain partnered to draw up requirements for the New Generation Weapon System (NGWS), a proposed new fighter that would be developed under the Future Combat Air System effort, which includes other elements of air warfare technology, including unmanned air vehicles (UAV) and space-based capabilities.
In a planning document published last year, Germany’s Bundeswehr envisions that Typhoons will operate with the NGWS with some overlapping capabilities to allow for greater operational flexibility and smooth the transition from existing to future technology.
In previous fighter development programmes, France has insisted on preserving its legacy of designing and building complete aircraft, a tradition that began with the Dassault Mystère series and continued through the Mirage to the Rafale.
In the past decade, however, the country has teamed up with other countries to develop stealthy UAVs, such as the multi-national Neuron demonstrator and bilateral Future Combat Air System with the UK.
“The time is right for us in Europe to decide and to decide to build something together and be available for all of us,” Alonso says.